Gram Vikas founders came to Orissa in the early 1970s as student volunteers with the Young Student's Movement for Development (YSMD), Chennai, to serve victims of a devastating cyclone. Under the leadership of Mr. Joe Madiath, the extensive activism and relief work by these volunteers over next 8 years motivated them to create and form Gram Vikas, which was registered as a Non-Profit organisation on January 22, 1979.
After its inception, Gram Vikas started by focusing on education and awareness, secure sources of income, improve health and living conditions of the tribal communities. Interventions and work with these communities led to The Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP). The campaign to recover mortgaged land was a major step both in the history of Gram Vikas and in the tribal people's life. In addition to interventions in these areas, we started a campaign for Community forestry, encouraging people to plant fuel, fodder, fruit and timber species over all private and common wastelands. In collaboration with the National Programme for Wasteland development, over 10,000 acres of wasteland were regenerated between the years 1985-1996. Further, Gram Vikas assisted communities to obtain legal titles over the revenue wastelands regenerated and protected by them
In Parallel to The Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP), the other significant programme intervention of Gram Vikas was in the area of "Biogas". In the initial days of its operations, the organisation noticed the threat to the forests in the vicinity due to indiscriminate cutting of trees, both by the locals and by timber traders. This is when Gram Vikas stepped in and decided to take the biogas technology to the rural communities as an economical alternative means of energy. By the year 1983, even the Indian government took up the promotion of biogas through the National Biogas Development Programme across India. Between the years 1984 and 1994, Gram Vikas constructed 54,047 plants in over 6,000 villages spread over 13 (undivided) districts of Orissa, including the tribal dominated districts such as Ganjam, Koraput, Sambalpur and Mayurbhanj. These plants, during the period accounted for about 80% of the biogas plants in Orissa and about 4% of the plants in India. From the year 1994, Gram Vikas started the process of spinning off the biogas programme by leveraging the capacities of our supervisors and trained masons to turn into independent turnkey operators and entrepreneurs. In a survey conducted by us in the year 1997, we found that 82% of the plants constructed by Gram Vikas were still in operation.
In the area of rural Social Housing, Gram Vikas has provided financial and technical support for building permanent, disaster-resistant houses. The houses are designed such that toilets and bathing rooms can be built alongside each house. Gram Vikas also provided training, technical guidance, masons and support for bulk purchase of building materials. The housing finance activity evolved over the past two decades from a full grant approach to a loan approach.
In the early '90s, we realized that the overriding problem of rural communities was health. This realization formed the backbone of the Rural Health and Environment Programme of Gram Vikas. Through RHEP, we began by dealing with the immediate problem of hygienic sanitation practices. We started by building toilet and sanitation units, which was a difficult concept for rural communities to accept. We started in a small way in five pilot villages covering 337 families, building on the credibility of our interventions till then. We scaled our programs year on year and by the end of March 2016, 70,000 families in 1200 villages have been covered (from the year 1992 to 2016).
Since 2004, Gram Vikas strategized its approach - MANTRA (Movement and Network for the Transformation of Rural Areas), which defines the strategic orientation that Gram Vikas has chosen to adopt, seeking to unify the parallel approaches being followed in the Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP) and the Rural Health and Environment Programme (RHEP). It is an approach towards holistic and integraged rural development in different states across India and few countries in Africa.